|Shed door, inside are sheep! EPrata photo|
The Bible mentions shepherds and shepherding over 200 times. Jesus uses the metaphor of the Shepherd often, and said here in arguably the most famous statement,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
Did you ever notice there were a lot of shepherds in the bible? There were even the unnamed shepherds watching their flocks by night, the first recipients of the Good News.
Numerous biblical characters are associated with the occupation of shepherding: Abel (Gen. 4:2), Abraham (Gen. 13:7), Isaac (Gen. 26:20), Jacob and his sons (especially Joseph, Gen. 30:36; 46:32), Laban (and his daughter Rachel, Gen. 29:9), Moses (Exod 3:1), and David (1 Sam. 16:11). Source Holman treasury of key Bible words, Carpenter, E. E.Shepherds' work was never ending, lonely, and dangerous. They had few tools, the rod as a crook to extracting sheep from difficulty and the staff or club for fending off wild animals; (1Samuel 17:34-37). We know David also had a slingshot. Shepherds also had pouch for food and used their wrap as a cloak and also a blanket.
There was not a lot of grass so shepherds had to move the flock often. Sheep are followers. If one sheep walks over a cliff the rest will follow. They don't defend themselves against prey, they simply huddle up and then there's a slaughter. They are scared of moving water and will only drink from still water, ("He maketh me lie down near still waters") but if they fall into moving water they will drown.
When night-time came the shepherd had two options. Using one of his tools, the rod, he could lead the sheep (never drive them) into a sheepfold in the field. (Luke 2:8) This was simply a crudely made rock enclosure, usually a circle, so-high and topped with thorns to prevent prey or robbers scaling it to get in (John 10:1).
The shepherd brought the sheep to the fold one by one. He'd let down his rod to bar it from coming in, and he would inspect the sheep from head to toe. He was looking for injuries, disease, or anything that might need attention. The lanolin, a waxy substance the sheep excrete to keep their wool dry, often hid cysts or cuts, so he had to closely inspect each sheep before lifting up his rod to allow them entry.
Just as the lost are closely examined at the Great White Throne Judgment as seen in Revelation 20:11-15. The saved are allowed in but we are still inspected. (Romans 14:10-12, 2 Corinthians 5:10)
The shepherd also counted the sheep as they went in, to see if any were still out there, or for tithing purposes. (Matthew 18:12; Jer. 33:13).
I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. (Ezekiel 20:37)
And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff, shall be holy to the Lord. (Leviticus 27:32)
The sheepfold had no door. The shepherd placed his rod and staff across the opening and bedded down at the threshold, becoming the door.
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:9)
I'll discuss the going in and out in another blog essay. The other option was to lead the sheep to a community sheepfold or a privately owned sheepfold in town. (Zephaniah 2:6). Sometimes the shepherd would make use of his lean-to or another enclosure in town, going through the same process with the rod as each sheep entered. This time, the shepherd would have hired a hireling to watch the sheep at night, and he'd go to his own bed until morning. Sometimes hirelings were not worthy and ran away. (John 10:13)
|EPrata photo. Actual sheepfold door, with wheelbarrow|
In the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb, in the land of Benjamin, the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, flocks shall again pass under the hands of the one who counts them, says the Lord (Jeremiah 33:13)
He is the Good Shepherd. He is the door, where inside the sheep are counted, examined, protected, loved, and cared for.